Take a Breath…!

I wonder whether anyone has ever said this to you? Maybe when the doctor was listening to your chest! Like so many aspects of our bodily functions, we can easily overlook the amazing miracle of breathing. Our lungs, enabling us to breathe, consist of 600 million tiny sacs called ‘alveoli’, each being 6000th of a millimetre thick and yet in total, roughly the size of a squash court. Each sac is a highly complex machine that processes the air it receives from inside the lung, extracts oxygen and then passes it into the blood. Electrical signals, diaphragm, muscles, lung tissue and skeletal structure, all must work in harmony with one another for the system to function. Breath is vital for human existence. We cannot live without taking a breath, even if with regular breathing training you might be able to hold your breath for 3 minutes!

Enough of the biology! How about a bit of Hebrew and Greek! As we approach Pentecost it’s good to remind ourselves that one of the metaphors for the Holy Spirit is associated with breath/wind. In Genesis 2:7 it describes God forming humankind, God breathing into clay to give Adam life, “And the Lord God  breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Ruach is the Hebrew word used here and can mean wind, spirit, God’s breath. The Greek word ‘pneuma’ similarly refers to the life force that sustains all living things – we breathe, and everything else breathes, because the breath of life inhabits us. Pneo, the same verb as pneuma is only used once in the New Testament in John 20:22 when “Jesus breathed on them and said ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. Acts 2:4 states “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (pneuma – breath or wind.) We use the same root word when speaking of a pneumatic tyre, meaning filled with air.

There is a wonderful vision of God breathing life into the Valley of Dry Bones (representing the House of Israel) in Ezekiel 37:5 “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life”.

So these are different examples of God’s breath being of great significance. At the beginning of creation, in the history of Israel when all seemed dead, Jesus breathing on the disciples prior to Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, pneuma) at the birth of the church.

What is God saying to you about His breath? Is He wanting to release a greater creativity through you? Is He wanting you to realise that He can bring life into the deadness around you? Or maybe filling you afresh with his Holy Spirit breath for a new season in fulfilling his purposes through you. Here are two lines, one from a hymn and one from a more recent worship song:

“Breathe on me breath of God, Fill me with life anew…”(1878) Edwin Hatch

“It’s your breath in our lungs as we pour out our praise” (2016) Great are you Lord. All You Sons and Daughters, Jeff Stotts.

Take a breath!

Paul Lancaster, Hope For The Nations